CANTON — During a budget work session held last week, the Canton governing board applauded its administrative team for crafting a 2021-22 fiscal year blueprint that reflects priorities identified in January that highlighted ongoing work with parks and outdoor recreation.
Other priorities identified in January included street and sidewalk repair, employee retention and streetscape improvements.
The budget presented addressed those needs and more with its nearly $7 million general fund budget that is up 5.5% from the previous year, along with slight increases in the water and sewer rates. The additional funds will cover replacing the town garage roof, upgrading the water plant, waste treatment improvements and a 5.1% increase in recreation spending for Sorrells Street Park, Chestnut Mountain Park and hiring a new recreation director.
Under the draft budget, the board will be able to decrease the tax rate from $.58 per $100 of value to a proposed $.54 per $100 of value under the proposal thanks to the countywide reappraisal that, on average, increased property values 24%.
During re-evaluation years, local government leaders must publish a revenue-neutral rate — a number that would reflect what the tax rate would be to keep its property tax revenue the same as the previous year with a nod toward inflation. That rate in Canton would have been $.50 per $100 of value.
Assistant Town Manager Nick Scheuer noted that while the budget did represent an overall increase, it reflected the growth and investment the town needs to keep up its infrastructure and account for some inflation.
“We wanted to make sure we were setting ourselves up to be able to meet future demand,” he said, noting surrounding communities are forecasting a similar rate.
Town employees would receive a 3% cost-of-living increase, with sworn, active police officers receiving an additional 4% pay hike. This would bring the department to a competitive pay compared to surrounding agencies, or bring the average officer salary to nearly $40,000 compared to the present $33,500, Scheuer said.
Insurance costs went up considerable, with the general policy insurance taking a 8.5% hike, fire department insurance up by 2% and flood insurance rising a whopping 28%, prompting Mayor Zeb Smathers to comment on the wisdom of the founding fathers to locate a town on the riverbanks.
Other changes proposed in the budget include increasing the water and sewer rates for customers inside the town limits. Water rates would increase from $15 to $17 on the first 3,000 gallons used, with amounts over that going from $3.88 to $4.20 for each additional 1,000 gallons. Sewer rates would go from $7.50 to $8,50, with gallons over 3,000 going from $1.94 to $2.10 for each additional 1,000 gallons.
Even with the increases, Canton residents have much lower rates than surrounding communities, Scheuer noted.
The draft budget sets aside funds to upgrade the police evidence room, a $24,000 cost; garage heaters, $11,000; an electric vehicle charging station grant match, $5,000; firefighting equipment, $35,000 and $5,000 for holiday decorations and marketing.
“You did an awesome, great job,” said Alderwoman Kristina Smith. “You hit the high points of things we identified as priorities. I appreciate all the work, especially on infrastructure needs like water, streets and quality of life projects for recreation.”
Alderman Ralph Hamlett asked about Camp Home, and Scheuer said there was $10,000 in the budget to make improvements with an eye on perhaps raising rental rates once the improvements were intact.
Hamlett also suggested improvements for the Colonial Theater, including a digital projector.
“It may never make money,” he said, “but it just might. I’d like to see that. It would be a legacy for every member of this board to have that building functional.”
“The Colonial still haunts us. It’s a hard nut to crack,” Smathers said. “If we get a full-time recreation person, we’ll want results, and a major part of that will be the Colonial and armory. As a board, we’re making a conscious decision to go all in on recreation, so we have to deliver a top-notch recreation program.”
There will be a budget presentation at the May 13 regular board meeting that begins at 6:309 p.m., with a public hearing on Thursday, May 27. The budget is expected be adopted at the June 10 meeting.